By Curt Yeomans
Levi Hardmon carried a dresser drawer filled with clothes and folders out of the front door of what used to be his family's town house Tuesday.
He had to step over, and around, debris as he walked: burned roof tiles and pieces of wood that used to be part of the overhang above the door.
As he walked toward his wife, Livia, he tried to give her something to be happy about. "You're in luck," he said, "I found all of your pictures, so you didn't lose that much."
Levi and Livia Hardmon, and their 16-year-old son, Jerome, were among the people left without a home Tuesday after fire destroyed a building in the back of the Oxford Townhomes complex, at 6042 North Lee Street, in Morrow.
Morrow Fire Chief Mark Herendeen said the fire damaged eight homes in building 15, the last structure in the complex. Seven of the homes were occupied. Livia Hardmon said there were at least nine people living in the building, including another family, and a truck driver who was out of town.
According to Herendeen, investigators determined that the fire was accidental, and caused by a burning candle that was left unattended. The resident of the town house where the fire started lit the candle, then fell asleep on her couch, Herendeen said.
She was awakened up by her smoke detector to find her town house on fire, "which just shows why it is important to have a working smoke detector," Herendeen said.
The Morrow Fire department received a call about the fire at 11:23 a.m., Herendeen said. He declined to identify the occupation, or the name of the woman whose town house was the starting point for the fire.
Herendeen said the fire heavily damaged five town homes, leaving them with no roof. There was moderate damage to another town house, when fire fighters had to remove drywall in the upstairs area to fight the flames, the fire chief said. Herendeen also said two other town homes had minor smoke damage. He said the Red Cross found temporary lodgings for the displaced residents.
Livia Hardmon said the Red Cross put her family in a local hotel. She said she and her family live next door to the town house where the fire started, which she identified as townhouse "F."
She said she had taken her husband to work, and her son to a nearby barbershop Tuesday morning. She then came home and found the place her family has called home since October 2007 engulfed in flames.
After the fire was extinguished, there was not much left upstairs. The town house where the fire started was little more than a shell of blackened wood. The brick exterior had fallen off the front of the building.
The house where the Hardmons lived still had furniture in the ground-level, living room, but parts of the roof and exterior wall, on the second floor, were gone. A window in one upstairs bedroom was shattered, and the blades of a ceiling fans drooped, like limp arms, toward the floor.
"First, you're in shock, then you're not in shock," Livia Hardmon said. "You just move on."
Herendeen said no person was injured, or killed by the fire, but Hardmon said there was at least one death. She had two pets, a dog, and an "alley cat" with "black and gray tiger stripes" inside her town house. Only the dog survived.
"My cat is dead," Hardmon said as her family sorted through its belongings. "She was asleep upstairs in the bedroom. That's the cost to me."
As her husband brought out a recently purchased laptop computer, Hardmon pondered its condition. Two other computers the family owned were either destroyed by the fire itself, or got wet during efforts to put out the flames.
"Do you think it still works," Livia said as her husband laid the laptop on a table stand in front of what used to be their town house.
"I would appreciate it if it did," Levi said in response.
Later, as Livia Hardmon sifted through the contents of the dresser drawer her husband brought out of the house, a sticker in a plastic wrapper fell onto the ground.
She picked it up, and paused momentarily as she looked at it. The sticker was a picture of the Catholic Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
"I guess she was with me," Hardmon said.